Mon 27 December 2021 | 14:30

Best Watford XI of All Time

Despite being unable to win a major honor during their long reign in the top four tiers of English football, some of the greatest footballers of English history have played for the club. Now 17th in the Premier League, some of the players in the list show the lack Ranieri’s Watford squad 2021 has.

The club was originally founded in 1881 as Watford Rovers before changing the name to West Hertfordshire in 1893. However, the club was finally established as

Watford F.C

in 1898. Despite having to wait until 1968 for promotion to the English second-tier league, the club was never short of famous fans. Sir Elton John became chairman of the club in 1976 and now has the role of honorary life-president at the Premier League club.

It was during this period that Sir Elton performed at the stadium for the first time, to more than 30,000 spectators. The concert raised vital funds for the club, which weren’t in an enviable financial position, and signaled a more hands-on role for Sir Elton. He bought the club and became Chairman and President in 1976. Elton John’s army finished second in their first stab at the top tier, qualifying for UEFA Cup football and reaching an FA Cup final one season later. Sir Elton had achieved what he set out to do; getting Watford to the First Division.

Currently with Ismaila Sarr, Emmanuel Dennis, and Joshua King as the best player on Watford 2021, Claudio Ranieri has a big mission to bring Watford back to its glorious way.

All You Need to Know About Best Watford XI of All Time

Set out in a 4-1-3-2 formation, we've compiled Watford’s greatest players into one fearsome team. Players that have played at least two seasons were considered eligible for selection. Here, we face the best Watford players ever and learn more about this huge Premier League club. A single player from this list could help the current Watford squad 2021 to avoid relegation.

GK: Tony Coton

Currently serving as a goalkeeper scout for Manchester United, we start our

best Watford XI of all time

with Tony Coton who won three Watford Player of the Season award in 1985–86, 1986-87, and 1989-90, he owns the record for the most Watford POTS awards.

Born and raised in the West Midlands, Tony Coton realized a boyhood dream when turning his apprentice forms to professional at

Birmingham City

. He saved a penalty on the occasion of his first Blues’ appearance, and he was well established by the time he caught Watford manager Graham Taylor’s eye.

Tony Cuton was helping organize a completely different-looking defense to that which he’d left behind in the second city. Shipping five on his debut at home to Everton brought home the size of the task immediately to a goalkeeper who mystifyingly never received a full England cap throughout his illustrious playing career.

Watford had won Tony’s heart and he couldn’t bring himself to leave, despite opportunities to do so, when the club was relegated to the second tier in 1988. He stayed on for two further campaigns, adding that third Player of the Season award in 1989/90, before making a £1,000,000 move to Manchester City.

The glovesman made a total of 291 Hornets appearances and is a fixed player in any list of best Watford players ever.

CB: John McClelland

The Irishman signed for the Hornets from Rangers in 1984 for a £225,000 fee and is possibly Graham Taylor’s greatest acquisition at the back as McClelland’s leadership and defensive qualities proved to be a resounding success with the fans at Vicarage Road. A commanding captain, powerful in the air and devastatingly quick, he was picked to represent the Football League against The Rest of the World in the League's centenary match, imagine what an addition he would be for a

Watford squad 2021

that has conceded 31 goals so far this season.

During his five-year spell at the Hornets, McClelland made 231 appearances. He earned recognition for his impressive performances, picking up the Player of the Season award twice in 1985 and 88 before being bought for just under £1 million by Manchester City manager Howard Kendall. His most noticeable feature was his unorthodox running style as he often demonstrated exceptional pace throughout his time with the club.

McClelland was also successful at the international level. He played for Northern Ireland at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. He eventually won 53 caps, scoring one goal in a win over Turkey. He was also captain of Northern Ireland from after the 1986 World Cup until his retirement in 1990.

CB: Robert Page

Next in best Watford XI of all time is Wales international’s current caretaker manager, Rob Page.

Having been with the club from the age of 11, Robert Page began his professional career with Watford, making his debut in 1993 against Birmingham City. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that Page established himself as a regular member of the starting XI and by 1997 he was appointed the club captain.

A dominant figure in the heart of the Hornet’s defense, Page captained the Hornets to victory at Wembley in the 1999 Championship play-off final, taking the Golden Boys to the Premier League for the first time.

Page has tasted success as well as a manager. After

Ryan Giggs

was charged with assault in April 2021, it was confirmed that Page would manage Wales at the delayed UEFA Euro 2020 finals. Wales qualified out of Group A in second place with a 1–1 draw with Switzerland, 2–0 win over Turkey, and 1–0 defeat to Italy. They went on to be eliminated at the Round of 16 stage following a 4–0 defeat to Denmark.

LB: Gary Porter

Next in the best Watford XI of all time is their penalty and free-kick specialist, Gary Porter.

In October 1993 the Hornets trailed by three goals at home to

Bolton Wanderers

with 20 minutes to play until a dramatic finale saw Gary Porter net three times, including a 90th-minute winner from the penalty spot. That stunning hat-trick in one of Watford’s greatest ever comebacks is how supporters will best remember Gary Porter, the midfield schemer who was also a capable left-back. Penalties were something of his specialty, as were free-kicks, and Gary’s cultured left foot was capable of picking out a pass or shot, making him a fearsome midfielder and fullback.

Spending 13 years at Watford, Porter earned the Player of the Season award in 1994 and was inducted into Watford's Hall of Fame in 2015. His 470 appearances from 1983-1996 put him third in the club’s all-time appearance list and included countless influential performances. He netted 56 goals, of which 15 were spot-kicks, and set up many more.

It was a great evening, that and the Player of the Year award are the two greatest achievements for me,”

Porter reflected on a recent visit back at the club.

On his spectacular performance against Bolton, Porter added:

“At the time you could never have imagined that we'd come back and win the game, probably not even draw, we were dead and buried.

“I have [still got the match ball]. I should have looked after it and had it specially kept, but I didn't and unfortunately all the signatures have rubbed off now and it's kept in the garage in a box – but it's still there!”

RB: Nigel Gibbs

A Watford supporter as well as a product of their youth system, next in the

best Watford XI of all time

, is Nigel Gibbs, who spent his entire professional career as a right-back for the club starting from 1983 and ending in 2002. Had it not been for an injury that ruled him out for almost two years in the 1990s, Nigel Gibbs would certainly have overtaken Luther Blissett as the man to make most first-team appearances for Watford as he fell only five games short of beating Blissett’s record for league appearances.

Considerably shorter than the average footballer at 5 ft 7in, Gibbs made up for his physical disadvantage with positional play, determination, accurate tackling, and staying on his feet.

Gibbs was appointed club captain at the start of the 1992–93 season. The team started the season with three First Division defeats in their opening six games, keeping just one clean sheet. The season remarked with an injury for Gibbs that kept him away from playing for two years.

Despite receiving inquiries from other clubs, he stayed at Vicarage Road for pre-season, in the hope of regaining his match fitness. After proving that he had recovered, Gibbs was offered a short-term contract at the club, which was eventually extended. Newly relegated Watford finished 13th of 24 teams in 1996–97. They conceded 38 goals in 46 league matches, the joint-best defensive record in the division. Gibbs missed just one of the club’s 57 fixtures, scoring in a game against



DM: Les Taylor

Although the former Tottenham midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, is a good candidate for the best player on Watford 2021, the Watford legend, Les Taylor was in another class.

As a defensive midfielder who served the club for 6 years, Les Taylor often showed a willingness to carry out the dirty work in the side, regularly breaking-up opposition attacks to great effect, and in addition, he possessed a workman-like style that proved to be a valuable asset for the Hornets through the club’s peak years and went onto win the Player of the Season award in 1982 ahead of Barnes, Blissett, and Callaghan.

Signing from Oxford United in November 1980 for £100,000 plus Keith Cassells, he helped the Watford side to achieve promotion to Division One in the 1981–82 season, and also captained the side at Wembley in the 1984 FA Cup final. In a total of 172 appearances, he scored 13 goals for the club.

Taylor moved on loan to


in October 1986 and signed for them permanently in December that year for £20,000, and after retirement he returned to Oxford in 1992. He became United's under-16 coach and is still with the club, now working as Youth Development Officer.

He said in an interview on Watford’s promotion in 1982:

“We had such a good group with experienced heads like Luther and young lads like John Barnes coming through. There were still a few lads like Ian Bolton and Steve Sims who had come through the leagues with Watford from the Fourth Division. It was a great bunch and we had such a belief that we would always win at home.”

RM: Nigel Callaghan

At right-wing of best Watford XI of all time is their veteran, Nigel Callaghan who served the club for seven years before being transferred to Derby County in February 1987. During his time at Aston Villa he had a second spell at Watford on loan before eventually retiring at Hellenic in 1994.

Callaghan lacked pace in his playing days but his delivery was Watford’s lethal weapon. He broke into their first team from the academy during the 1980–81 season and helped them win promotion to the First Division a year later. Callaghan also helped them finish second in the league in 1983. He also played in the 1984 FA Cup Final where they lost to Everton. In total, he played 223 league games for the Hornets and scored 41 goals.

Watford's former manager, Graham Taylor, compared Callaghan’s ability to cross the ball as being the equal of

David Beckham

, and he did so without a hint of exaggeration. Callaghan really could put the ball on the proverbial six-pence, and yet, like a lot of talented, creative players, he could be exasperating.

He said on his own abilities:

“I wasn’t a John Barnes. I had a few tricks but John sucked people in and he had quick feet and could get past them. But for me, if you can get the ball in without beating a player, what’s the point of beating a player? Get the crosses into the box, as many as possible. The reason you beat a player is because you need to. If the player stands off you and you can get a cross in, do it. It just looks better to the crowd to beat a player.”

LM: John Barnes

Ismaila Sarr is for a lot of people the

best player on Watford 2021

, and with a long-standing interest from


, he can follow the footsteps of Liverpool and Watford legend, John Barnes.

After four years of youth football at the Stowe Boys Club in Paddington, Barnes was noticed by Watford as a teenager while playing for Middlesex League club Sudbury Court. Barnes quickly established himself as a regular player and scored 12 Second Division goals as Watford were promoted in the 1981-82 season. At his peak, Barnes was the classic flying winger, blessed with pace, trickery, and an eye for goal that made him a natural crowd-pleaser.

 Barnes eventually left Watford on 9 June 1987 to sign for Liverpool after 233 league appearances scoring 65 goals, where he became one of the best English players of history.

His first goal for England was his most memorable, an incredible mazy dribble in a friendly against Brazil in the Maracana Stadium in 1984 that announced Barnes as a player of true international pedigree. He went on to win 79 caps for England, the last of which came in 1995. However, many observers felt that Barnes’ early promise in an England shirt failed to blossom, due to a rigid team structure that did not make the best of his unique talents.

On his years at Watford, Barnes said:

“My years at Watford were not only some of the happiest, but also made me the player I was.

“I remember playing Tottenham away. The fancy footballers, the archetypal architects of the game, and we were the demons of football, if you listened to the press. I remember they used to make fun of us. In the warm up they’d come out and kick the ball as high in the air as they could. Glenn Hoddle was there, they had a laugh about it. We loved playing against them and Arsenal. We had good records against them. They may have had better players than us but we expected to go there and win. We had a work ethic but we also had a game plan that was all about attacking and we found that some sides didn’t like having to cope with that for 90 minutes. I remember losing at Anfield and being so disappointed we’d lost. I couldn’t work out why they’d beaten us, because we felt we were going there to win. They were a top side, though, and they sucked us in and passed it round us a bit.”

AM: Tommy Barnett

Next in the

best Watford XI of all time

is their early veteran inside forward, Tommy Barnett, who played 395 Football League games, scoring 144 goals, a record that has only been matched by Luther Blissett.

He made a total of 442 competitive appearances for Watford, a club record that stood for nearly 40 years until Duncan Welbourne overtook him.

Tommy Barnett began his football career with Longsight before joining Manchester United, where he spent 1927-28 on their books without making their first eleven. Barnett joined Third Division club Watford in the 1928 close season, making his Football League debut against Gillingham the same September.

Barnett continued as a regular in Watford’s first eleven until the outbreak of the Second World War forced the abandonment of peacetime football in September 1939, which effectively ended his career at the age of 30.

Following his retirement from football, Barnett worked as a masseur for the Wembley Lionsice hockey team and continued to support Watford as a season-ticket holder. He died in Watford, aged 77 on July 9, 1986. His ashes were scattered on the Vicarage Road pitch.

ST: Ross Jenkins

The first centre-forward in the best Watford XI of all time is their 70s aerial monster, Ross Jenkins.

Starting his career at Crystal Palace, Jenkins was bought by Watford manager George Kirby for a then club-record fee of £30,000 initially. Despite a tough start to his Watford career, Jenkins played almost 400 times for the club earning legendary status in the process for his role in the team’s rise through English football.

A towering target man with intelligent movement and a strong aerial prowess, coupled with excellent service, Ross Jenkins spent ten years at Vicarage Road with his contributions being recognized both in 1976 and 1979 when he won the Player of the Season award.

Jenkins was a deadly forward for the Hornets scoring 142 during his time in Hertfordshire. Following the revelation of Graham Taylor, Jenkins was essential when they were promoted from the Fourth Division in 1977–78, the Third in 1978–79, and the Second in 1981–82.

Jenkins played in their first game in the top flight, a 2–0 win at home to Everton and early in the 1982–83 Watford topped the league. They eventually finished second to Liverpool and Jenkins left Watford at the end of the season to play in Hong Kong.

ST: Luther Blissett

Luther Blissett had already etched his name into Watford folklore on several occasions in his three spells as a Hornet, but he was truly immortalized as a Golden Boy great in November 1991 when he broke Tommy Barnett’s all-time league goalscoring record at the club, in a 2-1 win over Portsmouth.

Undoubtedly among the

best Watford players ever

, the prolific centre-forward went on to score 186 times in 503 outings during three separate spells at Vicarage Road after making his initial debut in the 1975/76 season after progressing through the club’s youth ranks.

A key part of Watford’s rise from the Fourth Division to a second-placed top-flight finish in 1982/83, Blissett became the Hornets’ first senior England international when scoring a hat-trick on his debut against Luxembourg in 1982. He moved to

A.C. Milan

for £1 million in June 1983, and after an unsuccessful season with the Serie A giants, Blissett was sold back to Watford for £550,000.

There, Blissett had another successful stint from 1984 until 1988, at which point he moved to Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth and found the net more than 50 times in two-and-a-half seasons at Dean Court. He was brought back home for a third two-year spell by Steve Perryman in 1991 and later served under Graham Taylor once more as part of the club’s coaching staff.

Watford great, Ross Jenkins, says of Blissett:

“Luther was the up and coming boy through Mike Keen’s time, and then when Taylor came in he inherited this young talent that was coming through. He was so quick and he matured very fast. He was a strong lad, very muscley. He came on to the scene and could run and bounce like nobody’s business!

“He had a terrific shot on him and also was a great header of the ball as he proved away at Old Trafford. You think back to nights like that Southampton game, and it was just a magical night and really helped our partnership. That set the standard and showed that as a team we could go up against good teams and beat them. We were still being labelled long ball but I think that was just a reporter’s thing. A cross from the wing is a long ball, but that is surely what a winger is supposed to do?”

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